Andrew Stadler Is Pursuing Soccer Dream in Sweden
June 14, 2016
YOU WOULDN'T HAVE TAKEN HIM for a future Swedish soccer hero if you’d seen Andrew Stadler at your apartment building’s front desk, the wild-haired concierge answering your questions and dispensing your packages. But that's where we was just a few short years ago.
And now? He's playing for Ostersunds FK in the Swedish top flight. He even scored a goal in his Allsvenskan debut on April 10.
“Emotionally it's just been crazy,” Stadler told American Soccer Now recently from Sweden. “It’s nuts. I've been out here four-and-a-half years just trying to get into this position, and then scoring in my first start.”
It’s easy to understand the emotions. Sweden’s top tier has proved an important league for American players and served as a launching pad for U.S. internationals such as Charlie Davies and Alejandro Bedoya. At 28, it long seemed Stadler had missed his launch time.
He was born and raised in Wauwatosa, Wisc., and grew up playing for a top youth soccer team called Polonia—founded by his grandfather after he had emigrated from Poland after World War II. Coached by his grandfather and father “as soon as I could walk,” as he puts it, Stadler developed into one of his area’s better players and, at George Washington, one of the country’s better collegiate forwards.
Limited by an injury during his senior campaign in 2009, however, Stadler ended up spurned by the combine. He left school a semester from graduating, signed with an agent and tried to find a club elsewhere. Nothing solidified.
“Things were lined up for me to go on trial with Pachuca,” Stadler recalled. “The agent I had didn't really do anything for me. I took off from school in my last semester in hopes that I could play. It didn't work out.”
Out of the game, and with MLS out of the question, Stadler returned to George Washington in the fall of 2010 to finish his degree. He worked odd jobs—the concierge among them—to save money for a single plane ticket to Europe without any real contacts with clubs.
His only goal was to show up somewhere and play.
“My thought was to go to Germany with a one-way ticket because Germany has, like, eight tiers of football,” he said. “There'd be quite a few teams where I could go to and say, 'Hey, I'd like to play for a bit and see how it goes.'”
A friend eventually gave him an inroad—only it wasn’t in Germany but in Sweden, and not in anything close to its top division. It was with a club called Färila IF, which plays in the sixth tier of Sweden in a remote town of 1,293 people. Helping ease the transition, though, were two of the team’s other new additions: fellow Americans Nermin Crnkic and James Weber.
Crnkic, like Stadler, has gone on to find European success, last season helping Czech club Jablonec upset Copenhagen in the Europa League. For each, Färila provided an unlikely start.
“We worked our butts off to get where we are now,” Crnkic said. “We both started in Sweden in a much lower league, and I think we both showed what we can do. Andrew is playing in the top league in Sweden, which I'm really happy for him [about]. He deserves it.”
At the time when he joined, Färila was facing relegation to the seventh tier. Attendances were around 100 but the curiosity of having three Americans playing for the club drew more people to the matches. (Stadler estimated around 500 showed up.) But Weber, Crnkic, and Stadler were well above this level and as Stadler puts it: “We were just scoring goals for fun, pretty much.”
“Going to the sixth tier, it was crazy,” Stadler said, laughing. “We got there and it was in the middle of the woods. The other two Americans and I stayed in this little one-room cabin with just a bed. We stayed there for a week before some guy allowed us to stay in his house. I questioned whether or not I had a future. I was just playing in the [sixth tier] in the hopes that someone would see me. I always knew I wanted to play; I was just never sure how it was going to happen.”
After his brief spell with Färila, Stadler moved to nearby Sandvikens IF, in the fourth tier, where a Swedish Cup match against Allsvenskan club Malmo provided his breakthrough. Sandvikens lost, but Stadler performed well, and Malmo assistant Jorgen Pettersson took note.
When Pettersson was hired as head coach of second-tier Landskrona BoIS, he persuaded management to sign Stadler in 2014. Stadler’s ascent took a brief setback when Landskrona were relegated to the third tier in his second season, but his strong performances earned him a transfer back to the second tier with Östersunds in the middle of 2015. By season’s end he had helped the club to its first top-tier promotion, scoring two goals in the season’s home stretch.
As Allsvenskan takes a break for the European Championships, Östersunds sits in 13th place with the simple goal of merely surviving in its first-ever season in the top flight. Stadler, this far, is doing his part with two goals in nine appearances.
“I certainly thought he had the ability to play professionally, but I wasn't sure which level,” said George Washington head coach and former Wales youth national team captain Craig Jones, an assistant when Stadler played for the Colonials. “He stuck in there and hung in there. We've got many players who could have taken the same route and it would have ended in the same way but didn't want to take the chance, whereas he persevered when he had setbacks. He kept going. He took a risk not knowing where he'd live, how much he'd get paid or if he’d even get paid when he got to Sweden.
“It's a great story,” Jones added. “Not just for us but for anyone coming out of college soccer. Nothing is given to you. It's not handed on a silver plate. Sometimes doors close and you have to find the next door that opens.”
As far as what the next one may be, only time will tell. After what he’s been through so far, Stadler and those who know him best don’t want to put any limits.
“One thing he can do is score goals,” Jones said. “Sometimes you can't teach that. His 1v1 at the college [level] was one of the best I've seen. This is a big year for him. Now that he's at the top division in Sweden. Can he keep scoring? Can he hold his own? I certainly think he has the ability. … He has a very good soccer IQ to reap the benefits of whatever league he is in.”
Said Stadler: “I hope to continue going up. I don't see this like I finally made it. I want to do well here in the Allsvenskan but I want to get to Holland or Germany. With the U.S., I would love to play on the national team. It would be sick just to get one call-up and an opportunity in a friendly. That would be a dream. It's going to take a lot of hard work, and I will have to play well every time I get a chance.”